The national average of adults receiving benefits is 4.6 percent, but in rural areas, that rate is 7.6 percent, with some places like Appalachia, the deep South and the Ozarks becoming pockets with high rates of disability benefits received. (Yonder map; click to make larger)
To qualify for benefits, a person has to prove he or she can't work because of a disability that will last more than a year. Some conditions that qualify are cancer, chronic back pain, anxiety and schizophrenia.
Disability rates vary widely by state, Bishop and Gallardo report, with West Virginia having the highest rate at 9.6 percent and Utah with one of the lowest at 2.8 percent, or one third the rates in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas. In Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and the Ozarks there are areas with over 10 percent of working-age adults receiving Social Security benefits.
Among the 50 counties with the highest percentage of working age adults receiving benefits, three are urban, five contain small cities and 42 are rural. Bishop and Gallardo analyze the numbers this way: "Disability payments are concentrated in counties where the jobs require manual labor and where unemployment is traditionally high. Mining and timbering are major industries in many of the counties with the highest percentages of disability beneficiaries. These are also counties with historically high rates of unemployment." (Read more)
"In some areas, there is probably a correlation with low education, because the lack of schooling makes many people employable mainly in manual-labor work," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.